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In Tibetan Buddhism, Crazy wisdom or yeshe chölwa (Tibetan: ཡེ་ཤེས་འཆོལ་བ, Wylie: ye shes 'chol ba, literally: "wisdom gone wild") refers to unconventional, outrageous, or unexpected behavior, being either a manifestation of buddha nature and spiritual teaching (enlightened activity, Wylie: phrin'las) on the part of the guru, or a method of spiritual investigation undertaken by the student. It is also held to be one of the manifestations of a siddha or a mahasiddha. Teachers such as the eighty four mahasiddhas, Marpa, Milarepa, the Nyönpa and Chögyam Trungpa have traditionally been associated with crazy wisdom. Georg Feuerstein however, takes a perennialist approach in equating this originally Vajrayana term with the trickster-type behavior of teachers in other Dharmic Traditions such as Zen, Tantra and Sanatana Dharma. He claims that parallels to this may be found among other forms of spirituality as well, citing Sufism, Bonpo, Taoism, Russian Orthodoxy (Yurodivy) and shamanism as examples.
Lama Ole Nydahl emphasizes mainly the aspect of the teacher. He tries to show that ancient Lamas like Drukpa Kunley would use unconventional methods to shock their students out of fixed cultural and psychological patterns. He cites examples of them forcing students to strip or publicly make fools out of themselves, in order to instill friendship or trust in a group or "ultimately space itself".
In his book "Crazy wisdom", the Tibetan tülku Chögyam Trungpa describes the phenomenon as a process of spiritual discovery:
Instead we explore further and further and further without looking for an answer. [...] We don't make a big point or an answer out of any one thing. For example, we might think that because we have discovered one particular thing that is wrong with us, that must be it, that must be the problem, that must be the answer. No. We don't fixate on that, we go further. "Why is that the case?" We look further and further. We ask: "Why is this so?" Why is there spirituality? Why is there awakening? Why is there this moment of relief? Why is there such a thing as discovering the pleasure of spirituality? Why, why, why?" We go on deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper, until we reach the point where there is no answer. [...] At that point we tend to give up hope of an answer, or of anything whatsoever, for that matter. [...] This hopelessness is the essence of crazy wisdom. It is hopeless, utterly hopeless.
From a particular Buddhadharma spiritual lexicon and perspective, Georg Feuerstein implies nonduality in his equating the essence of Samsara and Nirvana as the root of crazy wisdom: "Crazy wisdom is the articulation in life of the realization that the phenomenal world (Sanskrit: samsara) and the transcendental Reality (Sanskrit: nirvana) share the same essence." Generally, the difference between Sanatana Dharma and Buddhadharma conceptions of "Samsara" and "samsara", respectively, are the former, a proper noun denoting a relative apparent locality, and the latter, an interiority or state of mind, the two are resolvable when understood from a nondual perspective.
Feuerstein then enters the spiritual lexicon of Advaita Vedanta with what may in an etic Anthropological discourse be proffered as its culturally relative memes, archetypes, literary motifs and cultural tokens of Atman, Brahman, Paramatman and Satcitananda (which Feuerstein glosses to the contraction of Being-Consciousness with bliss implied or transcended) to identify the root of crazy wisdom:
Seen from the perspective of the unillumined mind, operating on the basis of a sharp separation between subject and object, perfect enlightenment is a paradoxical condition. The enlightened adept exists as the ultimate Being-Consciousness but appears to inhabit a particular body-mind. In the nondualist terms of the Indian teaching known as advaita vedanta, enlightenment is the fulfillment of the two truths: the innermost self (atman) is identical with the transcendental Self (parama-atman); and the ultimate Ground (brahman) is identical with the cosmos in all its manifestations, including the self.
Feuerstein frames how the term Avadhuta (Sanskrit) came to be associated with the mad or eccentric holiness or "crazy wisdom" of some antinomian paramahamsa who were often "skyclad" or "naked" (Sanskrit: digambara):
The appellation "avadhuta," more than any other, came to be associated with the apparently crazy modes of behaviour of some paramahamsas, who dramatize the reversal of social norms, a behaviour characteristic of their spontaneous lifestyle. Their frequent nakedness is perhaps the most symbolic expression of this reversal.
Feuerstein equates the Avadhuta with the "sacred fool":
The crazy wisdom message and method are understandably offensive to both the secular and the conventional religious establishments. Hence crazy adepts have generally been suppressed. This was not the case in traditional Tibet and India, where the "holy fool" or "saintly madman" [and madwoman] has long been recognized as a legitimate figure in the compass of spiritual aspiration and realization. In India, the avadhuta is one who, in his [or her] God-intoxication, has "cast off" all concerns and conventional standards.
Crazy wisdom as a universal cultural phenomenon
Feuerstein lists Zen-poet Han-shan (fl. 9th century) as one of the crazy-wise, explaining that when people would ask him about Zen, he would only laugh hysterically. He also counts Zen master Ikkyu (15th century), the Christian saint Isadora, and the Sufi storyteller Mulla Nasruddin among the crazy wise teachers. Other adepts that have attained "mad" mental states, according to Feuerstein, include the masts and bauls of India, and the intoxicated Sufis associated with shath.
June McDaniel, in her work on the divine madness of the medieval bhakti saints in Bengal, mentions multiple parallels to this phenomenon in other cultures: Plato in his Phaedrus, the Hasidic Jews, Eastern Orthodoxy, Western Christianity and the Sufi all bear witness to the phenomenon of divine madness. The bhakti divine madness may show itself in a total absorption in the divine, complete renunciation and surrender to divinity and the participation in the deity and divine pastime rather than its aping or imitation. Though the participation in the divine is generally favoured in Vaishnava bhakti discourse throughout the sampradayas rather than imitation of the divine 'play' (Sanskrit: lila), there is the important anomaly of the Vaishnava-Sahajiya sect.
Divine madness may also be seen in the biography, hagiography and poetry of the Alvars and it has parallels in others religions, such as the Fools for Christ in Christianity, and the Sufis (particularly Malamati) in Islam. The 9th-century Indian philosopher Adi Shankara also described that an enlightened man may act like a Jadvat (an inert thing), a Balvat (child), an Unmat (a manic) or a Pissachvat (ghost).
- Simmer-Brown (2001) 392.
- Rigpa Wiki Enlightened Activity.
- Nydahl (2004), translated into English as: Nydahl (2003).
- Trungpa (2001) 9-10.
- Ray (2005) 204.
- Kakar (2009) 41. On the Nyönpa as madmen, see: Ardussi & Epstein (1978) 327. On Chögyam Trungpa as a manifestation of crazy wisdom, see: Nydahl (2003) and Nydahl (2004).
- Feuerstein (1991) 25.
- Feuerstein (1991) 70.
- Feuerstein (1991) 105.
- Feuerstein (1991) 69.
- Feuerstein (2006) 15f; 28-32.
- McDaniel (1989) 3-6. See also the lead section of this article. See the article on theia mania for more information regarding Plato's views.
- McDaniel (1989) 7.
- Dimock (1966).
- Horgan (2004) 53; McLeod (2009) 158-165.
- Ardussi, J. & Epstein, L. (1978). "The Saintly Madman in Tibet". James F. Fisher (ed.). Himalayan Anthropology: The Indo-Tibetan Interface (Paris: Mouton & Co.): 327–338. ISBN 9027977003.
- Dimock, Edward C. Jr. (1966). The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Vaisnava-Sahajiya cult of Bengal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 8120809963.
- Feuerstein, Georg (1991). "Holy Madness: The shock tactics and radical teachings of crazy-wise adepts, holy fools, and rascal gurus". Yoga Journal (New York: Paragon House). ISBN 1557782504.
- Horgan, John (2004). Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spirituality. New York: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 061844663X.
- Kakar, Sudir (2009). Mad and Divine: Spirit and Psyche in the Modern World. Chivago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226422879.
- McDaniel, June (1989). The madness of the saints: ecstatic religion in Bengal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-55723-5.
- Mcleod, Melvin (2009). The Best Buddhist Writing 2009. Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 1590307348.
- Nydahl, Ole (2004). "Verrückte Weisheit: und der Stil des Verwirklichers". Buddhismus Heute 37: 48–57. Retrieved 2012-12-14.
- Nydahl, Ole (2003). "Crazy Wisdom". Diamond Way Time 1: 48–54. Retrieved 2012-12-14.
- Phan, Peter C. (2004). Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue. Maryknoll: Orbis Books. ISBN 1–57075–565–5.
- Ray, Reginald (2005). "Chögyam Trungpa as a Siddha". Fabrice Midal (ed.). Recalling Chögyam Trungpa (Boston: Shambhala Publications). ISBN 1590302079.
- Trungpa, Chögyam (2001). Crazy Wisdom. Judith L. Lief, Sherab Chödzin (eds.). Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 0-87773-910-2.
- Simmer-Brown, Judith (2001). Dakini's Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism. Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 1-57062-720-7.